Posted by TFH Magazine in Tropical Fish Hobbyist Blog on May 11, 2010 at 8:45 am
By Mike Hellweg
Many of you have sent a lot of encouraging emails, letters and notes, and a lot of condolences and sympathy notes when Mom passed away. Thank you for all of them! All were very much appreciated and knowing I have a lot of friends out there really helped out.
In some of those, you have also asked questions. In addition, some of the folks attending various talks I’ve given have also come forward with questions and comments, so I thought I’d address those here in the next couple of blog entries.
Several people have asked about how I do water changes and keep the gravel clean in all of those tanks, and how much time I spend in the fishroom each day. First, realize that I didn’t just set up a fishroom when I first got started. This has slowly grown over the past 35 plus years. I started small with one tank, and grew slowly as space and finances allowed. And even when I got the chance to set up a fishroom, it took years of planning, tinkering, and changing to get it right. I now have it down to a science. Each day I do water changes on part of the fishroom, then while I’m feeding I refill the water barrels and treat them to get them ready for the next day. All of this takes about two hours each day. So over the course of the week, I spend about 14 hours feeding and doing water changes. Some people spend more than that in a single day watching TV or on the computer, so it doesn’t really take as much time as it sounds. Plus, I enjoy it. So it doesn’t even seem like any time at all.
I have drilled all of the tanks (I learned how to do this from AKA Chairman Jack Heller, a member of my local club and friend for many years. Thanks Jack!) and installed a bulkhead overflow in each that flows down to a drain line that runs around the room and out to a floor drain in the laundry room next to my fishroom. I have a series of 55-gallon drums all drilled and plumbed together with special bulkhead fittings designed for round containers. This allows me to fill the drums with cold water, treat it, aerate it and heat it before using it. These are then plumbed into a pump that connects to a simple garden hose. The plug for the pump is plugged into a normal outlet with a remote control switch so I can turn the line on and off from up to 50 feet away. Eventually this will be run into a system of pipes and valves to allow me to run water directly to each tank without the need for a hose, but that will have to wait until the contest is over.
The next question I have received several times is why I would use the stick on liquid crystal thermometers when “I should know better” (those are a couple of people’s exact words!). I have a reason for everything I do or use in my fishroom. Everything is something that I have thought about, tried and tested over many years. I do know that they are not always accurate, but I’m not using them to give me an exact temperature–and for freshwater fish an exact temperature is not really needed. If I need that, I have a lab thermometer that can give me a temperature accurate to within less than a tenth of 1 degree. Fortunately, I don’t need that often. I just use it to calibrate the LC thermometers to know how far off they are. Guess what? They are only a degree or two off most of the time! Not too bad. But the main reason I use them is for pointing out a problem. A quick scan of the rack, and I can see that there aren’t any problems with temperature in any of the tanks. If one of them is way off of the others, I know there might be a problem that needs to be investigated further. A simple, cheap device that works exactly how I need it to work. What more could a hobbyist want?
Notice I am using an overflow system. This means I don’t use a gravel cleaner. Most of the tanks are bare bottom or have a half inch layer of fine sand. If I need to clean the gunk from the bottom of those tanks I use a diatom filter or even just a simple power filter hanging on the tank for a few hours.
The next most common question is what I feed the babies. I don’t use commercial fry diets. Not that there is anything wrong with them, but I prefer to use live foods. For tiny fry that need something small, I used to feed a lot of paramecium. But during this contest, I’ve needed things of various sizes for different species, so I’ve taken to using a lot of infusoria cultures. They’re quick and easy to set up, and I don’t have to maintain them between uses like I do ramped-up paramecium cultures. Those can also crash quickly, and during the first several months of this contest I had a few things going on so that keeping a bunch of paramecium cultures going was the farthest thing from my mind. Infusoria cultures can be set up the day before the spawn is set up and will be ready to go when the young are free swimming a week or so later.
After that, my most common food is microworms. It doesn’t really matter which variety you use, as even “pure” microworm cultures are different species from place to place around the country. So get whatever you can locally and culture them in whatever way is easiest for you. Currently, the ones I’m using are those called “banana worms.” There are also potato worms, wheat worms, Walter worms, microworms, etc. All are pretty similar in nutritional value, based on the media that you use. I use a commercial blended human baby cereal and yeast. Mix it with dechlorinated water to a pasty consistency and it’s good to go for several weeks. Once the worms start climbing the sides, your culture is ready to harvest. Wipe the worms from the sides of the culture, and also dip into the media to get young worms. That will give you a variety of sizes to feed your fry. Adults of many smaller fish species also love microworms! But don’t wipe everything away or you won’t have enough to be able to harvest from the same culture more than once or twice a week. I keep several cultures going all at once. Along with one daily feeding of microworms, I also feed newly hatched brine shrimp once a day.
Next blog I’ll cover brine shrimp. That’s enough of an issue to cover an entire entry by itself.